The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

January 16, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Women’s game making major strides at WVU

MORGANTOWN — The coach stood before the media – and those who pretend to be — in the aftermath of a taut, physical Big East game that West Virginia University pulled out late to win over Syracuse, 70-61.

The first words out of his mouth told the story of the afternoon.

“That was a great Big East game. It was fun to coach, fun to watch.”

And that was not Mike Carey, the winning coach of WVU’s women’s basketball team. That was Quentin Hilllsman.

If Hillsman had that much fun being on the losing side, one can only imagine how gleeful Carey would be.

And so you asked him if he had had as much fun as Hillsman.

“Fun?” he snapped. “I didn’t have a whole lot of fun. My idea of fun is winning a game by 20 or 30 points. In fact, when Sarah (Miles) took that 3 I about had a heart attack.”

We will get to that 3-point shot by Miles a bit later, for first we have to explain that women’s basketball has arrived as an attraction at West Virginia University.

True, in many ways it is still not exactly football or men’s basketball, and it never will be, but with a nationally ranked team, an enthusiastic coach and a vision of its audience, it is thriving as it never has before.

Certainly, a crowd of 3,086 pales when held up against the sellout crowd that will fill the Coliseum for today’s men’s battle with Purdue, but you have to understand that these are two different sports.

Yes, there’s five on a side and the rules are the same, but in some ways women’s basketball is a nursery rhyme to men’s basketball’s poetry.

To understand just how different the games are, we have to go to a conversation that began in a bar the other night, if you can imagine that, and that was revived with Cam Thoroughman before the men’s Saturday practice.

The basis of the conversation was this: Could the best women’s team in college basketball beat the worst Division I men’s team?

The answer at the bar the night before and with Thoroughman was the same, that because of size and athleticism, the men would almost certainly thump the women. If they were to play a game of H-O-R-S-E that might not be true, but when you could be physical and dunk and run the court, the men would just be better at it.

That, however, does not diminish women’s basketball one iota, and this game with Syracuse was proof of it. It was a physical game; everyone admitting to that.

“That’s the Big East,” Carey said. “Women’s basketball is physical now.”

It is played hard and fast and when you have two evenly matched teams it is as entertaining in its own way to the audience on hand.

“You come tomorrow and you won’t see these people at the men’s game,” said the WVU marketing guru Matt Wells. “It’s two different audiences.”

Indeed it is. The crowd is either an elderly group or a very young group, both of whom turned the Coliseum into a festival. And when you consider that

more than 3,000 came out in direct competition to the Steelers on television to see a team that used to think 1,000 was a big crowd, you know the game is making strides.

“It makes a big difference,” Carey said. “They are doing a better and better job of building the sport up here and turning into a family atmosphere and an event.”

You may not have John Flowers doing “The Dougie” on the video screen, but you have some of the cutest 6-year-olds and 10-year-olds and 70-year-olds dancing their heart out on that screen, just like John Flowers.

And because they don’t open up the upper area of the Coliseum, you get a feeling of a crowd, something you never used to have, and that not only makes it fun for those there but helps Mike Carey in his recruiting, for recruits get a sense of the excitement this nationally ranked Mountaineer team is generating.

Now, if we could just make it fun for Carey, which brings us back to Miles’ decision to launch a 3 with the game on the line in the middle of a play they were running. Well, the color drained immediately from Carey’s face.

“I about passed out,” he said.

In the end, though, it mattered not, and everyone left happy, even the losing coach.

Everyone but Carey, that is.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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